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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2011

    Default What to Expect from a Public Defender

    My question involves criminal law for the state of: PA

    I am accused of a crime. I applied for and got a PD. The night before magistrates araignment he called and said he recommended he ask for a reduction of charges and I plea to a lesser charge and "just pay a fine of about $100.00". I said I was not guilty and did not want to do that. He said it would be easier if I did that. I said "why should I pay $100 when I'm not guilty"? Why should it cost me money? He said think it over.

    The next day at the magistrate's he asked again about taking a plea and I said I would not. Turns out the prosecutor would not hear of a plea so that made my decision mute.

    The PD did not show up for my hearing in county court. I had no contact with him since I left the magistrate's hearing a few months before. The judge asked if I had an attorney and I said I thought so but he wasn't there. The judge said I guess you plead not guilty and I said yes. That was that.

    I saw on the court's internet site that I had a hearing 2/3/11. I was not contacted to tell me of this so on Friday 1/28/11 I called his office. I left a mesage with a secretary. He did not call back. On Sunday 1/27 my neighbor who is moving to another state and is not spending much time here came home and found a letter for me from the PD office telling me of the hearing. My notice was sent to the wrong address.

    The internet said status conference, the letter said disposal hearing. I called the PD office and the secretary said she'd send my PD an email.

    I didn't hear from him. I showed up at the courthouse on 2/3. He was on one side of a railing and I was in the spectator seats. He did not make any attempt to make contact with me. I was not able to go up to him and speak to him. After about 3 hours or so my name was finally called. I approached the judge as did the D.A. and my PD. No sooner than we stopped in front of the judge the PD says "trial". The DA was asked how long of a trial he thinks it would be and t DA said 2 days with a questioning voice. The PD said with a shrug, "yes, maybe" so the judge said we'll say 2 - 2 1/2 days. Any other motioons etc?

    The PD said he asked for discovery and thinks it's in but hasn't had time to pick it up yet. Judge says she'll give him 15 days to do so and will go from there.

    I this what I should expect as my defense? I'm thinking he's ticked because I refused to take a plea (if it was offered). I have not spoken to him since 10/06/2010! How can I tell him about my defense if I only had a few minutes one day in October before the magistrate's hearing to speak with him?

    I feel that he will not represent me and do his best. I've been on a number of juries and I know the PD doesn;t do a great job. In fact, one asked what we as jurors thought of his performance and a bunch of us agreed to speak with him. We said there were so many questions he should of asked the defendant but didn't and if he did it would have made our job easier. He did a poor job and thanked us for our honesty.

    I am disabled and after Medicare Part B and D deductions I get $524.00 and have to buy many prescriptkions and doctor co-pays. I can't afford my own attorney. I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    Please give me advice on what to do in this situation.

    Thank you very much.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Behind a Desk

    Default Re: What to Expect from a Public Defender

    I'm not sure what you expected your lawyer to do at a pretrial conference, beyond discussing that the case would go to trial, how long the trial might be, discovery and motions. That's what you do at a pretrial when a case is going to trial.

    You have the right to retain a private lawyer to represent you at trial.

    I don't know anything about your case, so I can't comment on your chances at trial.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2007

    Default Re: What to Expect from a Public Defender

    Even private lawyers can be hard to reach sometimes,I dealt with good and bad PD,a private lawyer can be a crap shoot as well. I do agree a good private lawyer is sometimes the best option,just be polite to the Pd and explain that your adamant about not pleaing. I notice they tend to say this deal was offered,I had a pd who was very helpful,realistic and professional,I also talked to or saw some that rubbed me the wrong way.

    I got over charged for a crime in my option and felt it was a misunderstanding. I basically knocked on a window too loud and cracked it in a retail store,I felt bad and stupidly told the manger what I did and offered to pay. I ended up getting charged with a low level felony b.c of the damage,criminal mischief. I tired talking to the pd and saying it was an accident and not like I hit it with a bat or I'm not some kid throwing eggs. I was given a Pd and the lady was very rude,the 1st pd I spoke to was very nice and helpful. I did find the private lawyer that I hired to be extremely better and arranged a good outcome,even that guy was a pain to get in contact with. The private lawyer would always come over and talk to me,even the pd spoke to me at least quickly each time in court. I screwed up again with friends and went to court another time and we all got a pd. I overheard the conversation they had and the pd seemed quick to just deal it out. The pd I had explained my options and even said listen if your guilty will fight this tooth and nail but it's a risk to refuse to plea.

    The best advice is just to be respectful,honest,firm but polite in wanting to deal with the case. The pd can be very over worked and a lot times there not much to do or talk about. They file the necessary motions and take it from there. I do feel in certain cases a private will investigate more or go that extra step to get a better plea. Sometimes they can just be sweet talking you and may spend only a hr or on your case put charge you for 3 hours o non sense. Where as a pd will just cut straight to the point do that same thing for free or at a greatly reduced price. It's hard but it's best to remain patient,contact the pd by email or ph once but don't over do it and see what can be worked out. The guy is helping you somewhat and your probably stuck with the person,work with what you have.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    CT & IL

    Default Re: What to Expect from a Public Defender

    Go file an additional appearance pro se (court clerk will have the form-do not discharge your consul). If you have not gotten discovery completed then you can call the DA & speak to them about it w/o your absent attny being consulted.

    I'm sure the DA will call the PD to get on the ball. You should go to the PD office and ask for your case file ... get a copy if you can.

    Once you file an appearance then you will be informed of all court dates. Otherwise you are at the complete mercy of the PD.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2010

    Default Re: What to Expect from a Public Defender

    I dealt with a private attorney who used to be a Public Defender and had to put up with the same kind of crap. He was thinking that his job still only consisted of showing up at the court dates unprepared and making half-assed arguments against whatever was being said. He also went to church with some of the local judges, DA's etc. Some of his arguments basically acted as secret code with the Judge also. If a charge against you didn't match what you told him, was absurd, or you had a legitimate defense he would argue the details. If he thought you had actually done something wrong (even if you were in the right or there was a defense) he would use an argument that he knew would never work, like arguing the law was unconstitutional in a lower level court when there was a much simpler legitimate defense.

    There was tons of evidence that could have been collected that would support my defense. There was a surveillance camera involved... I had to twist the arm of both him and his partner for days to get them to subpoena it. They made ridiculous arguments like "If there was anything on the tape the police would already have it". In my case the police had helped the "victim" (who was really the aggressor) doctor up their statement to sound more like an actual crime in exchange for a date. I pushed the issue and gave the impression that I was getting worried that they were not really trying to defend me and that they may have given statements I made to the prosecutor because they tried to use a misinterpretation of something I said against me. When they finally subpoenaed the tape, they said the security manager said there was nothing on it. When I looked at it and found the appropriate time it clearly disproved everything the "victim" had told the police. They didn't give it to me until after the preliminary hearing, where one of the phony major charges was dropped and the other wasn't because my lawyer wanted it as leverage to force me to take a plea bargain. He did not use the tape at all in the argument. There was other evidence to be subpoenaed, such as vindictive text messages that the "victim" was sending about me prior to the whole incident.

    The lawyer also frequently misquoted the law, and did absolutely zero legal research to determine case law. He acted as if he and his church goons were the sole determinants of right and wrong, and his moral reasoning was naive and backwards and often contradicted by the law.

    He initiated contact with the prosecutor without my permission, when I had every intention of going to trial.

    Hopefully one day we will remember what due process is and what a defense lawyer is supposed to be. In most rinky dink small towns this is the best kind of lawyer you will be able to deal with. The local police and justice personnel make up the vocal majority when it comes to local politics, meaning the rights of a defendant are constantly going to be decaying and finagled away. A promotion for a lawyer usually means judge, and for a defense lawyer to have any hope of it considering who votes for judge election, they can't actually be good at their job.

    If you can't find or afford a REAL attorney, like the ones on TV working for the crooked politicians that have PI's collecting dirt on the accuser and blow the case out of the water at the preliminary hearing, you have to make do.

    Basically it is up to you to constantly twist their arm and force them to subpoena anything relevant to your defense. Adamantly argue your defense to your PD, and research as much law as you can to make sure you know all the angles. Ask them for the case law relevant to your argument.

    If you are really smart, you might consider asking to represent yourself as co-counsel. That way if the PD refuses to do something or make an argument because of his own reputation or other selfish reasons, you can do it. But don't do this unless you know what you are doing - law is complex and has tons of rules that can have serious consequences if broken. I imagine the PD is even worse than the clown I had, because he is swamped with everyone who can't afford their own lawyer. I recommend calling him 20 times a day to get through until you get everything done you think needs to be done. To try to get him in the right frame of mind, you can threaten to argue for his replacement as he is acting in his own best interest instead of trying to help your defense. This makes him look bad. Or you can actually do it, in case he thinks it is a hollow threat.

    Also remember that you are ALWAYS under scrutiny. A reasonable intelligent person would try to look at the situation from both sides, and consider the possibility that you might have done something slightly wrong. Never do this. The people you are dealing with are all trained to use the slightest sign of weakness to justify bypassing all your rights and ignore all legitimate arguments in your favor. This includes judges, your lawyer, the prosecutor, the jury, the police, and even the victim. Never show weakness, always argue from the high ground. Unless of course you are actually guilty and want to let the chips fall where they may.

  6. #6

    Default Re: What to Expect from a Public Defender

    The role of a criminal defense attorney is really complex. He can challenge probable cause for arrest, argue in favor of being released on your own recognizance or on very low bail, negotiate plea bargains with prosecutors, discuss the pros and cons of going to trial, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of pleading guilty instead of going to trial. These things are what a public attorney can offer you when you're in the same circumstances.

  7. #7

    Default Re: What to Expect from a Public Defender

    The constitution guarantees everyone the right to "an" attorney, implying one. You of course also have the right to waive that right, at least technically, and can fire your public defender. But if you do, then you are on your own unless you hire your own attorney privately. Also the judge would probably strongly discourage you from appearing as a defendant without some sort of representation, especially if you are charged with a sufficiently serious offense to warrant needing an attorney in the first place.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2011

    Default Re: What to Expect from a Public Defender

    Quote Quoting FixAmerica
    I recommend calling him 20 times a day to get through until you get everything done you think needs to be done.
    Decades ago, I hired a divorce lawyer. It seemed that whenever I called, he was either not there, or busy, and did not return my phone calls. I finally hit on the technique of telling the secretary, "I'll wait for him to be not busy." "But that might be a long time." "That's OK. I'll wait" (10 minutes later) "He is still busy. May I take a message?" "No. I'll hold." (10 minutes later) "I'm connecting you with Mr. Peterson." Spending 20 minutes on hold while reading a book worked pretty good.

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